Keeping kids interested

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Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Thu Feb 16, 2006 8:44 am

I was talking with my wife the other day about her experiences teaching science to special ed kids, who typically have cognitive deficits, ADD, physical problems, low self-esteem, poor parenting or some combination of two or more such disadvantages. In many cases, the major problem is that the kids hate school because they have "failed" for so long at it, that it's near torture for them. She went on to talk about what she does in her science classes to give kids a sense of success and, for lack of a better term, "wonder" for the world around us that science can foster. They make "gack" and slime, build eco-systems, maintain several class pets and generally speaking do just about anything she can think of to give the kids a "hands-on" fun experience with science.

She continued on to say that her own experience with piano lessons was a good example of "what not to do." The repertoire was entirely classical, the teaching from standard method books, and the approach equally standardized. Lessons were not fun for her, but a "chore" at best, at worst, torture.

Considering that so many kids quit lessons before they ever acquire any real proficiency or knowledge, it seems that anything teachers and parents can do to keep the kids interested and involved in lessons will help them in learning something in which instant gratification is almost sure to be missing. It's hard for kids, who tend to live in the moment (God bless 'em!), to see a benefit that may happen months down the road.

With that background, what can teachers and parents do to make piano lessons interesting, fun and engaging for kids? How can one make practice "more" fun? Are there any "secrets" for making lessons fun for kids? What can you do to make kids want to come to lessons? I suspect that everyone will have somewhat different answers to these questions, but, perhaps, the sharing of the answers will help both teachers and parents. :)




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Postby Stretto » Thu Feb 16, 2006 11:34 am

Here's a couple thoughts I can think of right off hand. I'll see if I think of any others and post back if I do.

One "biggie" is in lessons, give students choices and let them make as many of the decisions as possible. I guess that's teaching them to think for themselves and be independent which all kids seem to strive for. I try to have one book of music I require that keeps them on track and then give choices for the rest of their music. I try to narrow the choice by playing 2 or 3 songs out of their "extra" music and letting them choose.

As long as we are doing something musical related at the lesson and they are going home with enough to practice, I try to make them feel like the lesson time is "their time" in which it's up to them how they would like to use their time at the lesson. If I think they are capable of figuring out some music on their own, I ask, "would you like to go over this music here or would you rather work on it at home first on your own and use the lesson time for something else".

In short, just think of any way to give them a choice and make decisions. A lot of times I just think up choices during the lesson as I go.

I just read recently in getting kids to work harder, compliment or praise what's good and focus on the things that are done right even if it's just one little thing rather than what wasn't done or done wrong. I read the more positive reinforcement kids get, the harder they will work.

I know someone personally (not piano students), struggling in school and I've witnessed first hand the parents for years have helped them too much rather than gradually getting them to the point of working independently. I'm sure it's only part of the problem and not sure if it totally applies to piano. But that's one of my primary goals in teaching piano is getting a student to the point of being able to figure out a piece of music independently without help.

I wonder, however, if one can go to extremes on this issue. On the one extreme being so strict in how things have to be done that it is "no fun". On the other hand, teaching kids to think everything has to be "fun" or instantly gratifying or it's not worth bothering with.




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Postby 108-1121887355 » Thu Feb 16, 2006 11:44 am

This is such a good topic! I agree with everything your wife said and as some of you on this site know already, I teach to the child and not by one book or one method.

That is how I have a new student, eight years old, who wanted to play "The Entertainer", and one line at a time, right hand, is playing it. It is almost all memorized without looking at the notes I wrote in her lesson book. Next week, I will begin some chords. And, how another new student, ten years old, hummed a melody to me and asked if she could play it..it was "Hall of the Mt King" (my cell ring). She was not keen on reading from the music yet, so I wrote the notes in her book. Both girls already knew the rhythm to the pieces. (By new, I mean 3-4 weeks)

My first year boys (ages 5 to 8 are playing "Star Wars Theme" and "Hedwig's Theme". Hedwig's rhythm can be tricky, but only one needed help as the other two could got it from listening to the piece.

When the student first begins, I have some questions to fill out or just answer for me...as What is your favorite passtime? What is your favorite music to listen to? Do you like to sing? What are your favorite songs to sing? And some others about attending concerts, shows, etc. Some are left blank as they do not yet know...we look at it again later.

I ask if they have a favorite song they would like to play - that is how "The Entertainer" (first theme) and "Mt. King" got started. Luckily they are not too difficult to learn. But I have also taught more difficult music - one was for a grandfather from Yale, "The Wiffenpoof Song" and another was "Take me out to the Ballgame", (which I have promised to my grandson, just 6 yo.)

I often use cards to write out the notes, so they can see any patterns and repeats better. I clip the card in the lesson book. I may also do a series of cards with just one line on each.

Practice is not always fun and may not be possible to keep it that way. Instant gratification is surely a big problem. I find duets help here, especially if a parent or sibling can learn part, even a non-pianist can learn most of them - yes - good old "Elephant Walk". "Heart and Soul", "Chop Sticks" "Peter Peter" and "Snake Charmer" (I use as a duet sometimes.) The instant success in these and sharing with another person is a good motivation for going to the piano. They also make lessons fun - one of my five year olds loves "Elephant Walk" and now is learning the top part so he and Mom can switch. Luckily the Mother has not yet gone crazy from hearing it (almost)! She sees the joy he gets from palaying it and it carries over to his other pieces, which he is now playing well, rote, in many keys, with chords. The new seven year old, made up a new bass, in just one week of learning "Heart and Soul".

Composing is another way to keep practice time and lesson time fun. As I teach chords for the rote pieces in the beginning, experimenting with them comes easily. First finding the I chord by the root and then finding the inversions and on to the V7 which I teach as an inversion first and the same with the IV. Many songs begin here. Sometimes I give out short poems and pieces are composed for the words. Some parents may call this 'fooling around' but if this can get them and keep them at the piano, learning will take place and fun will be had!

I give stickers for their lesson book every week and for a special accomplishment on a piece or composition. I give seven shiney pennies when they first can put them quickly on the notes as I call them out, on a wooden keyboard. I have snacks sometimes and on holidays..usually fairly healthy ones and water. I have games and toys in another room for those who are waiting and many musical games and books on composers out and musical crosswords and some musical things I have made - a circle of keys (answers on the back), a cardboard pizza in pieces of whole to 16th and many others. I loan tapes and CD's and even a video occassionally. (The Lone Ranger when learning "WM Tell Overture", etc.)

Now, if you haven't stopped reading...I have been teaching over 40 years and I LOVE IT!



:D


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Postby Stretto » Thu Feb 16, 2006 12:59 pm

A couple more thoughts:

Along the same lines as the science class that your wife teaches, Dr. Ziegler: "hands on" helps in lessons as well. I try to keep at the forefront of my mind during lessons to be sure the student is mostly "doing" with a minimum amount of me explaining while they sit idly by.

Also, on the instant gratification subject, loveapiano's post reminded me about having some simple pieces that a student can "divide and conquer" quickly. I've learned the hard way that keeping a student on one piece of music that is a little too challenging for quite a long time until they can eventually get it down hasn't worked so well for me or the student. They lose interest and want to quit the piece if it takes them too long to learn it.

I've also learned the hard way not to feel like a student has to learn every single piece of music to perfection and that is it ok sometimes to have them stop working on something and move on even if not "perfect". I usually ask them what they would prefer. When my own child started preschool, it was emphasized at that age that it's the process not the end result that is important in the learning experience. I think this holds true for young students of piano. For example, not expecting an 8 year old to "master" every piece before going to the next.

It can be a little bit of trial and error to figure out what works best for each individual student in how they learn. I've had, and I'm sure every other teacher has had students who get bored with things that are "too easy" and do better with a challenge. Then some get overly frustrated with a challenge and would prefer something simpler they can pick up on easily and quickly.

Working on something that turns out to be too challenging and frustrating and has to be set aside, though, I feel is never a waste but has it's advantages. I've had students who have worked on something that is too hard and then when they go back to music more in keeping with their skill level, suddenly the music all seems easy. Also, I've had students who didn't want to play things that seemed "too easy", but when faced with a more challenging piece finally decided on their own to stick mainly with the "easier" music and were much more content with the level they were on without always feeling they had to constantly move up as fast as possible.




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Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Thu Feb 16, 2006 1:04 pm

This may seem trivial, but it's worth saying. One of the things my wife tries to do with her students is to give lots of hugs and provide a sense that she really cares about them (she does!). Parents are so busy these days that many kids don't get those things at home enough. There is no quicker way to get a student interested and keep them that way than to give him (or her) the love and attention he craves.
All religions, arts and sciences are branches of the same tree. All these aspirations are directed toward ennobling man's life, lifting it from the sphere of mere physical existence and leading the individual towards freedom. - Albert Einstein
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Postby Stretto » Thu Feb 16, 2006 4:12 pm

OK. I thought of another idea to add. That is as a teacher and parent too, be enthusiastic. There's the saying, "enthusiasm rubs off." I love teaching piano and am enthused to teach others. I hope that my enthusiasm rubs off on the students. I think it does.

Thinking back, when teachers or other people have been enthusiastic about a subject that I might have otherwise found uninteresting, their enthusiasm has sparked my curiousity and made me think there must be something worthwhile to learn.
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Postby Stretto » Thu Feb 16, 2006 5:22 pm

Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Editor wrote:This may seem trivial, but it's worth saying. One of the things my wife tries to do with her students is to give lots of hugs and provide a sense that she really cares about them (she does!). Parents are so busy these days that many kids don't get those things at home enough. There is no quicker way to get a student interested and keep them that way than to give him (or her) the love and attention he craves.

This post got me to thinking as well. Students love to talk and tell me about school and things they have going on. Over the years, I've had 30 min. lessons and have always hated feeling like I had to keep conversation outside of music short because of limited time to work on the music. I've always listened a few minutes here and a few minutes there and I am truly interested in what students have to say. I recently increased the amount of time students come for lessons to 40 min. per lesson partly to allow more time for extra "chatting". I had a student longer ago who when there was a few minutes left until the parent came, I'd ask what she wanted to do with the remaining time. The answer was always, "let's just talk."

Along the same lines of kids needing attention, they can use a listening ear as well.
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Postby Beckywy » Thu Feb 16, 2006 7:07 pm

Yes, show interest and sensitivity and compassion to the students, but don't lower the standards of your studio.
"The real purpose of studying music-to unite ourselves with our special gifts in such a way that one would add strength to the other" Seymour Bernstein
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Postby Stretto » Fri Feb 17, 2006 8:34 am

Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Editor wrote:I was talking with my wife the other day about her experiences teaching science to special ed kids, who typically have cognitive deficits, ADD, physical problems, low self-esteem, poor parenting or some combination of two or more such disadvantages. In many cases, the major problem is that the kids hate school because they have "failed" for so long at it, that it's near torture for them. She went on to talk about what she does in her science classes to give kids a sense of success and, for lack of a better term, "wonder" for the world around us that science can foster. They make "gack" and slime, build eco-systems, maintain several class pets and generally speaking do just about anything she can think of to give the kids a "hands-on" fun experience with science.

She continued on to say that her own experience with piano lessons was a good example of "what not to do." The repertoire was entirely classical, the teaching from standard method books, and the approach equally standardized. Lessons were not fun for her, but a "chore" at best, at worst, torture.

Dr. Zeigler, what is your wife's idea of what the ideal lesson experience should have been for her? In other words, what would she have liked to see done differently in her lessons?

I think looking back many of those taking piano lessons have things they would have liked to see done differently in the lessons. I know I can think of some things.




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Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Fri Feb 17, 2006 9:06 am

Stretto wrote:Dr. Zeigler, what is your wife's idea of what the ideal lesson experience should have been for her? In other words, what would she have liked to see done differently in her lessons?

We talked about this in the same conversation. My wife had several teachers, both as a child and as an adult. She would liked to have seen more flexibility on the part of her childhood teachers, especially in terms of repertoire, with more popular songs allowed. Her lesson experience was pretty much 'plain vanilla' in that the teachers used the same method and repertoire for everybody. No apparent attempt was made by the teachers to account for the different ways in which people learn. Since Megann is a teacher now, she is particularly offended by that approach.

From her adult teachers, she would like to have seen a lot more professionalism and a lot more focus on the lessons themselves. One teacher spent most of the lesson "trashing" various mutual personal acquaintances, rather than teaching anything at all. Needless to say, she didn't stay long with that teacher. It's been hard to get her back into lessons since that experience.

Part of the problem with her experiences in childhood was that, while she complained to her parents about the lessons, her parents, who were genuinely good people, seemed to view her complaints more as those of a child who would rather be out playing than real criticisms of a fatally flawed teaching approach. Sometimes, parents just need to listen to their kids. If one teacher isn't working out, try another!

One thing we haven't touched on much is what parents can do to encourage and help their kids in piano lessons. It may seem like another burden for the parent, but, if the child isn't learning, they are just throwing their money away. Parents, what makes your children enjoy taking lessons and practicing?
All religions, arts and sciences are branches of the same tree. All these aspirations are directed toward ennobling man's life, lifting it from the sphere of mere physical existence and leading the individual towards freedom. - Albert Einstein
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Postby 108-1121887355 » Fri Feb 17, 2006 9:12 am

The hugs and enthusiasm are essential! I feel in order to teach a person, you have to get to know them, so the chatting is very important. You may learn that they were sick, or there was a problem at school, or Dad is away - things that have an effect on the person, will often effect their music as well.

Thinking back, as best I can, I do not remember my piano teachers chatting. I had many as we moved around. I recall one in CT that I felt closer to, but the others were strickly business. I do not remember any names! One used a ruler to rap my knuckles when I made a mistake! In all parts of life, don't we all want and need a connection with people?

I have taught nursery school, piano, group piano, music and drama - I love working with children and sharing my love of music with them. I wonder how many of my teachers loved teaching.


:(

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Postby Stretto » Tue Feb 21, 2006 12:27 pm

Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Editor wrote:One thing we haven't touched on much is what parents can do to encourage and help their kids in piano lessons. It may seem like another burden for the parent, but, if the child isn't learning, they are just throwing their money away. Parents, what makes your children enjoy taking lessons and practicing?

I would be interested to hear more ideas as well as to what motivates kids to practice.

One parent told me sometime last year that what motivates their child to practice the most is when there is an upcoming performance such as a recital. The only drawback to recitals is that students tend to only practice their recital music for the length of time until the recital so in some ways a lot of time is lost during that period learning any new music. I do really think the best motivators for my students have been when there is a performance opportunity forthcoming. That's one reason that besides recitals, I started having quarterly group get-togethers for the students in which they play their music for each other. I think this provides more "performance" opportunities without the constant looming pressure of a recital. After the students kind of get used to having the group "class", I hope to get some "guests" of various sorts related to the music field for some of the get-togethers. I know there's probably several teachers reading this who have done group lessons or group student get-togethers for a long time or have more experience with it then I do. It's something I've wanted to do from day one in giving lessons. Partly I didn't have the time for it or want to go to the extra effort but finally concluded it would be worth the effort if student's practiced harder and were able to learn more about aspects of music that lesson time doesn't always allow for.

One student's parents ask to hear mini-weekly home recitals just for them and the student seems to enjoy doing that.

As with every other aspect of lessons where tailoring lessons to the individual has been stressed several times on this forum, with practice as well what motivates one student may not motivate another. I think it's been helpful when parents tell me what works for thier kids and how their child learns best.




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Postby 108-1121887355 » Sat Feb 25, 2006 4:56 pm

I think the mini-recital is a terrific idea. Students tell me when a greandparent has visited and enjoyed hearing them play. Oftem unfortunately. when I ask if Mom or Dad like the new piece (by name) the child replies, he or she did not hear it...'they were in the kitchen, they were working', etc. I think this month I will suggest to the students AND the parents, that they try this. A time to sit down and listen to the student play...not talk, listen.

An old friend of mine said she did not like to play for her Mother's friends as they would ask her to play and then talk while she played! She does not like to play for anyone to this day - just her own enjoyment.

I think duets help bring the parents and siblings into the process. I have a 6 year old playing the melody to "Linus and Lucy" he requested and his sister is playing the bass. The rhythm is tricky. You can turn many pieces into duets.

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Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Mon Mar 06, 2006 8:18 am

loveapiano wrote:I think the mini-recital is a terrific idea. Students tell me when a greandparent has visited and enjoyed hearing them play. Oftem unfortunately. when I ask if Mom or Dad like the new piece (by name) the child replies, he or she did not hear it...'they were in the kitchen, they were working', etc. I think this month I will suggest to the students AND the parents, that they try this. A time to sit down and listen to the student play...not talk, listen.

I think this is an excellent idea to which I see no downside. The student benefits because he gets some, usually, much-needed attention from busy parents and some performance experience. The parents benefit because they get to monitor their kids progress in lessons for very little effort. If more than one child in a family is taking lessons, the mini-recital can set up a little healthy competition among the children to see who can perform best. The teacher benefits because she gets students who have actually practiced!

There have been a number of good ideas in this thread. I'm opening up this forum temporarily to all visitors, so that they can read them. If you have other ideas on encouraging practice and keeping kids interested in lessons, by all means, add them! On the former topic, you may also want to read (and post to!) the Encouraging Practice thread in the Parent to Parent forum. :cool:




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Postby Stretto » Mon Mar 06, 2006 3:23 pm

One of my students a couple weeks ago mentioned at the lesson that her mom video-taped her playing her songs and the student seemed pleased about it.

Loveapiano has mentioned several times on this thread and others how much kids enjoy duets. At the last lesson with one student, I was playing the accompany with her that is written under songs in many beginner books. When it was time for the lesson to be over, the student seemed dissapointed and suprised the lesson was over, "already". I could have kept going because it's fun for me too. So duets as loveapiano has mentioned help keep the fun in lessons.

Also, one parent commented recently that the student was playing some familiar pieces that they could all sing along with
as a family and that was enjoyable for them.
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